David Baldacci. Stuart Woods. Lisa Gardner. Besides churning out at least one thriller a year, all have created a series featuring a particular set of characters, only to move on to a whole new series at the height of their bestselling success. Once the second series wins fans, the writers merge the two worlds, with new books in which protagonist A meets protagonist B, sidekick C competes with sidekick D, and the bad guys are all over the place. Plots and past histories weave together like the final season of Lost, and only dedicated fans can follow the nuances. But with a crime writer as sophisticated as Karin Slaughter, the collision of two worlds can blossom into something as complex as a Bach fugue—something that is ultimately just as beautiful and satisfying.
In Broken, Slaughter’s ninth novel, she expertly weaves together the (surviving) characters of her popular first series, set in rural Grant County, Georgia, with her more recent series, which features Atlanta-based state investigator Will Trent, in a mystery that begins with the apparent suicide of a young woman attending a small college. The novel is aptly titled, in that every single character, from the victim to the first suspect to the local and state investigators battling over the case and its broader implications, is flawed in some fundamental way. The baggage that weighs down the lead investigators—both county and state—stems from events portrayed in previous novels, yet Slaughter is so masterful at revealing motivation in a few lines that new readers or those who have skipped a book or two will have little trouble catching up.
Here, for example, is her summary of Will Trent’s relationship with his wife, who is far, far away as he spends investigation time with two opposite but alluring women: “Last year, she had married him on a dare after years of empty promises. She cheated on him. She pushed him to the breaking point, then sank her claws into his flesh and yanked him back. His relationship with Angie was more akin to a twisted hokey pokey. She was in Will’s life. She was out. She was in. She was shaking him all about.” Were it not for sudden flashes of horrific violence and the plodding methodology of police procedure, Broken might pass for a novel of Southern manners and relationships.
As in her previous books, fully realized characters are not the only thing setting Slaughter above other crime writers: her moments of humor are small gems that make the darker passages more bearable. Hers is not the zany comedy of a Janet Evanovich, but the wry observation of a native Southerner. When Trent is forced by necessity to stay in the childhood home of a young widow, the widow’s mother grills him relentlessly over dinner, leading the widow’s sister to a later bit of satire: “Tessa affected their mother’s soft accent. ‘Tell me, Mr. Trent, do you prefer boxers or briefs?’ Sara laughed, and Tess continued, ‘Was your first sexual experience from a missionary position or more of a canine nature?'”
Despite the violent death her genre demands, Slaughter’s books are populated with real, living people, and when their worlds collide, their stories become only richer.
Karin Slaughter will discuss and sign Broken at Davis-Kidd Booksellers on June 23 at 7 p.m.